How Shelly Walsh Prioritizes Social Impact

Discover Shelly Walsh's strategy for leading her teams through challenging times by making social impact a priority.
Impact Exchange - Shelly Walsh - Diversity and Inclusion at Janie and Jack

Special Guest: Shelly Walsh; Retail Executive and former President at Janie and Jack

On this episode of the Impact Exchange, we were joined by Shelly Walsh, Retail Executive and former President at Janie and Jack, to discuss Shelly’s experience with building social good initiatives throughout her career. With over 25 years of experience delivering strong results across global brands and startups, including leadership roles at Gap Inc. and Gymboree, Shelly also co-founded Tea Collection and served as an executive sponsor of Gap Inc.’s Color Proud Council.

Shelly shared insights into her approach on leading brands to prioritize social impact in the face of adversity and why it’s a priority even in difficult times.

Listen to the podcast to learn more about Shelly’s perspective on the following:

  • How Shelly kept her team motivated through social impact
  • How Janie and Jack prioritized their values to overcome tumultuous times
  • How authenticity and consistency in social impact leads to powerful results

Listen to The Impact Exchange Podcast:

Connecting Values and Social Impact

Leading with her values was something that was also important to Shelly, and throughout her career has been able to bring those values into her professional life. For Shelly, inclusion, diversity, sustainability, and helping those in need are core pillars of social impact that she brings into every new career venture.

For a brand’s social impact efforts to be successful, it needs to be authentic to the brand. This is why Shelly brings her personal values into her professional career. A brand can make a more powerful impact when it has a team who is committed to supporting its values. For Shelly, living and leading with your values is authentic, and authenticity is key when it comes to engaging in social impact.

social impact pillars

Prioritizing Social Impact During Good and Bad Times

The era of conscious consumption has forced brands to reevaluate their impact on society. The growing population of socially conscious consumers is continuing to shift their buying behavior to support brands that are aligned with a cause and that have strong brand values. In an effort to keep up with these shifting consumer demands, more brands are jumping on board to engage in social impact— but if not done right, these efforts can fall flat.

Shelly explains that there is no “good” time for social impact. Brands should be living by their values and positively impacting society, even in the face of adversity. During her time at Janie and Jack, the company went through some tumultuous times and despite the hardships, their team always placed an emphasis on their social impact efforts.

During challenging times like the pandemic and economic risk, 91% of employees say their company’s purpose makes them feel like they are in the right place. Between bankruptcies, intensive sales processes, and the global pandemic, Shelly continued to remind her team to stay focused on their vision and continue working towards their goals.

employee and company purpose

“Staying connected, staying motivated, and keeping our heads down to work hard towards a shared goal helped us come out more resilient. Each time we went through some sort of turmoil, it connected us to each other and the customer and honestly made us more committed to helping others and giving back.”

For many brands, social impact would be put on the backburner during trying times, but for Janie and Jack, Shelly continued to make it a priority for their team. During the uncertainties that their team faced, social impact served as a beacon of hope to keep going. When it comes to creating social impact, consistency and authenticity are crucial.

Doing What’s Right, When It’s Right

Socially conscious consumers are spending more time researching their favorite brands and doing their due diligence to understand what a brand stands for. In the era of purpose-driven commerce, it’s no longer enough for brands to make blanket statements on societal issues if they’re not backing the statement up with actionable steps to make a difference.

Diversity and inclusion in business

One of Shelly’s core pillars of social impact is diversity and inclusion. In January 2020, Shelly attended a corporate diversity and inclusion summit where she learned from Brandice Daniel, founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row, that less than 1% of designers of color have products represented in department stores. Following the summit, Janie and Jack partnered with three Black designers within 48 hours and began working on the collaboration.

In addition to the collaboration, Janie and Jack also donated to Brandice Daniel’s nonprofit, ICON360, to continue supporting the cause. When it comes to social impact initiatives, consistency and authenticity go hand-in-hand. When a brand builds social impact into their DNA and makes it a core mission of the company, they can make a much greater impact than if they had simply jumped on the bandwagon because it’s what consumers are expecting them to do.

Aligning brand values with nonprofit partnerships

“This was us doing what’s right when it’s right— and it’s always right. Doing your part is not sporadic, it’s doing it everyday.”

Aligning Social Impact Efforts with Brand, Employees, and Community

With social impact efforts varying from philanthropic giving programs, messaging and marketing, and diversity and inclusion, it can be difficult to know which initiatives should be prioritized. The needs of society are ever changing and there’s no “perfect cause” to align your brand with. In the theme of authenticity, your social impact efforts should come from your brand values and what you care about as a company.

Shelly shared that to help brands identify causes and initiatives to align themselves with, they should use their customer connections and community when identifying and prioritizing programs to support, as well as looking internally. Brands can leverage their values and product offerings to authentically align themselves with a charitable cause or social impact initiative.

As an example, Janie and Jack often used their brand offerings to guide them towards charitable causes. As a creator of designer children’s clothing, Janie and Jack supported Baby2Baby, a nonprofit organization that provides children in poverty with basic necessities that every child needs.

Align brand values with charitable organizations

Shelly also shared that during her time at Gymboree, they were able to create team bonding opportunities throughout the year by volunteering together. Whether through bake sales or art fairs, their team was able to get involved in working together to support their community in fun and creative ways.

“It was really fun to showcase that and get together to donate time and clothes, and it was great seeing how our field teams were committed to supporting the local community.”

Company culture is an important component of building a strong team with shared values, visions, and goals. In fact, 61% of employees choose, leave, avoid, or consider employers based on their values and beliefs. Culture is one of the most important things for a winning team when done right, and it has the power to create tremendous impact. Creating a positive company culture means building a foundation of trust with employees, and this trust in a company is what can help teams continue to thrive, even during times of uncertainty.

Overcoming Challenges of Social Impact

Enabling a social impact strategy can be daunting, especially when you don’t know where to start. With questions of budget, time, and resources, many brands are faced with obstacles before they can even get started. Shelly shared that small budgets require brave ideas, and she encourages brands to not let funding be an excuse for not engaging in social impact.

Starting small to begin ingraining social impact into the DNA of your business is a great way to approach social impact with organic authenticity. When it comes to giving back and supporting societal causes, it shouldn’t be about spotlighting your efforts— you do it because it’s the right thing to do. For Shelly, social impact means being courageous enough to stand by your values, even in the face of adversity.

Continuing to place an emphasis on social impact initiatives is not only good for society, but it’s good for teams, communities, and your bottom line. When a company leads with purpose, people are 76% more likely to trust that company and 72% more likely to be loyal to that company. Additionally, 92% of employees who work at a company with a strong sense of purpose say they would be more likely to recommend their employer to those in their network who are looking for a job.

purpose-driven companies are more likely to drive higher customer loyalty

It can be easy to get distracted away from social impact during challenging times like the pandemic and through industry and market changes, but staying committed to your values can help teams come out stronger than before. Strong business results, a connected team, loyal customers, and knowing you’re making an impact as a company is an important measure of what you’re doing.

“Doing good by doing well and giving back is good for the bottom line. It’s good for culture and good for the greater good. And companies and cultures that live by that win.”

As we move forward in the era of purpose-driven commerce, social impact is going to continue to be a core pillar for brands in the race for customer loyalty. Consumers are going to continue making value-driven purchase decisions and choose their brand affinity based on social impact efforts. As Shelly shared, consistency and authenticity are going to continue being the differentiators between brands who are addressing societal issues because it’s what’s expected of them, versus brands who are doing what’s right, when it’s right.

We hope you enjoy this episode of The Impact Exchange, until next time...stay healthy, stay mindful, and create impact.

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